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What I’ve Been Playing Recently

I came up with a good “post series” name the other day but like a dumb-ass, I didn’t write it down anywhere so I’ve forgotten it. Let this be a lesson to the younger folks out there, you can’t rely on your memory forever, it eventually becomes filled with nonsense like the names of Mario Brothers monsters from 40 years ago.

I use all sorts of reminder notifications and note taking methods in my daily life, but that sort of topic is much more apt for Blogging Intensifies than here. Here, I want to just talk about video games, sometimes. I keep swearing that I write up one of these since fucking January, but apparently not, so here I am. Just ANOTHER thing with becoming a forgetful old man. I guess that’s part of why I like to blog about this sort of thing as well. Because sometimes I forget what I already played 10 years ago.

Wario Land 2

I really did sort of, break the experience playing this series backwards. Wario Land 2 has a lot of elements that showed up in it’s sequel, Wario Land 3. Though a lot less of what was in Wario Land 1, which honestly, feels a lot more like it’s a sequel to Super Mario Land 2 than anything else. Now, I may have been completely missing something here, for example, I found the Select button isn’t mapped right on my Retroid so that results in some oddness, but Wario Land 2, does not seem to have any sort of Overworld Map. You just travel through, level by level. Which is kind of weird because it actually needs the ability to replay levels more than any other title in this series. Each level has at least 2 mini game things that when you fail them, you fail, and that’s it. You’re not completing those bonus items now buddy.

It’s weird, and I am pretty sure I am just missing something somewhere. It’s not a big deal, I really was not going for completion, just finishing the game and beating the final boss.

At this point, I am inclined to say Wario Land 3 is the best title in the series.

Castlevania Adventure Rebirth

I’ve played all or close to all of the “Symphony of the Night” style later Castlevania Games. Not so much the earlier titles. I actually really hate the earlier “standard levels” titles. Primarily because they are all extremely difficult and full of cheap shots.

Fortunately, I can use save states in emulation, which removes that headache.

Castlevania Adventure Rebirth is part of a small sort of series of games by Konami where they remastered some of their older games for the WiiWare line up. I have tried to also play the Blaster Master Rebirth game but it gets hung up on the controls as well. Emulating Wii titles has been really dodgy.

On the game itself, it’s actually pretty neat, though there is a lot of kind of weird choices and puzzles. There are some branching paths as well that I’m not sure were int he original Game Boy version of Castlevania Adventure game, I suspect not. I enjoyed this game, though would have enjoyed it less without save states to keep me going during the tougher parts.

Side note, the resolution for this game is atrocious. I have to assume it’s a Wii thing, because the screen shots from others that I saw online, are just as awful.

Super Castlevania IV

I hate the name of this game, because it just breaks any sort of sorting. It’s just Castlevania IV as far as I care, though I think it’s technically like the 7th or 8th Castlevania title.

This is one I’ve been kind of wanting to get to for a while, but just, never did. The only real thing I remember about it’s release is that it was one of the titles that Nintendo used to really push the whole “Mode 7” thing on the SNES and it had this crazy amazing (at the time time) whip mechanic.

Specifically, the way you could hold out the whip and flip it around with the controller, and use it to swing.

The game itself also really comes off as a bit of an advertisement for “Mode 7”. There is a (single) rotating room (OMG THE ROOM IS ROTATING!), and a single hallway through a tunnel where the background rotates “around” you (also pretty new at the time). Also the giant swinging Chandeliers, which I assume must have been super taxing on the hardware because the background int hat screen is completely blank.

Super Star Trek

It’s worth mentioning this little classic gem. I played two modern remakes of it, both I think by the same person, but it’s an old school BASIC game, originally run as text only. It appeared in the book BASIC Computer Programs, which I actually have or had a copy of somewhere. I always wanted to type it up and try it, but never did, thankfully, others have, so it’s available in the original format, or some nice updated graphic versions.

The premise is simple, you have so many days (turns) to defeat Klingons throughout the area. You can scan the nearby sectors, warp around, then in combat, fire phasers or torpedoes. You also need to manage the ships’ energy and damage. It’s quite easy to die unexpectedly actually. Space is a dangerous place.

It’s really crazy just how compelling this fairly simple gameplay loop is. It does feel like being a Starfleet Ship Captain, minus the parts that are not shooting things. It’s all very elegantly complex while still being simple enough to easily get. It’s a really good game design.

Review – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)

Konami – Playstation – 1 Player

Castlevania games are hard. Or at least they used to be. They tend to be kind of random, long and have clunky controls. At least on the NES. I have never really cared much for Castlevania games. The whole “goth” and “vampires” thing never really appealed to me either. Still, Symphony of the Night I one of those games you hear people talk about a lot. When people start saying a game is one of the best they have ever played, it generally is worth giving a little attention to.

I had first purchased SotN on this notion. This was still several years after it’s release and it would sit in my collection for several years after I acquired it. I still couldn’t quite bring myself to get over the fact that it was still a Castlevania game. Eventually of course, I came up on a need for something to play, so I decided to work my way through this game.

I’ll have to say I was initially disappointed by the main character. I suppose I still am a bit. I have always associated Castlevania as being Simon Belmont. Or at the very least SOMEONE named Belmont. Instead I find that I get to play as some flakey gothy vampire wannabe named Alucard. What’s with Japan’s obsession with anorexic pretty boys sporting flowing white hair anyway? On top of that, you don’t even get to wield the classic whip weapon. Still, there was something intriguing about the gameplay and environment.

Also the music was intriguing. The soundtrack for this game is absolutely wonderful. It matches the visuals extremely well to create the perfect atmosphere for the game. It also helps to keep things entertaining, which is good because there is a lot of backtracking and random exploring involved in this game. The castle is quite large without being overwhelming. The designs and areas are varied more than enough to keep you from getting lost without having to look at the map all the time. Not to mention that once you reach the second half of the game you realize just How brilliant the level designs are. It’s not every game that allows you to traverse every area upside down as if it were designed to be played that way.

The action is quick as well. There are RPG elements of upgrading weapons and levels to help prevent you from easily traversing areas you’re not supposed to be, though generally there are lots of puzzles and required items that do this quite well. In that respect the game does come off as a bit of “Find item A to enter area B, now find Item B to enter area C” aspect to it. Still, many of those old power-ups remain useful for most of the game.

I guess I should interject some sort of opinion here, this being a review and all. This game is a blast to play. It is certainly deserving of all the praise it receives. After I finished the game the first time through, I felt compelled to replay it again, several times. Fortunately there are some reasons to replay. As Alucard you have the option of several different endings, depending on which items you have in your inventory at the time an how you go about defeating some bosses.

There is also the ability to play as Richter Belmont. Hey look, we get to be a Belmont after all! Complete with whip power. Richter’s gameplay is also considerably different than Alucard’s, it’s more reminiscent of the play style of more classic Castlevania games, essentially you simply charge through and kill everything until you get to the end. Not plot or leveling or power ups required. NOTE: in the Saturn version you also get to play as Maria, I’ve not played this version of the game.

Anyway, this classic game is spot on awesome and comes highly recommended.

Review – Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA)

Ah yes, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.  Things finally start to come together for out portable Castlevania titles.  This one is set pretty far in the future compared to most of the other Castlevania games so the overall styling is a bit of a treat as well, well, it could have been…

The Belmonts are pretty much the heroes of the Castlevania series but really there’s probably as many if not more games NOT starring
Belmonts than there are games with them.  This game is one of those games, starring the fruitiest hero of any game in the series, Soma Cruz.  Even is name is ridiculous.  Instead of a cape he wears a long white trench coat.  At least it’s not black like some Matrix wannabe.

Still, the fruity hero thing worked in the best game of the series, and it works pretty well here.  In fact this is the closest we’ve gotten to Symphony of the Night on the GBA.  The best aspect is the ability to switch weapons.  There’s even a gun weapon however it doesn’t appear until the end of the game, it’s slow to fire, and generally sucks.  You’d think for a game set in modern times the weaponry would be a bit more… modern.  Of course that would take the sword slashing fun out of things.

Like its predecessors, this game features a customizable power up system.  This one centers on collecting souls of monsters.  Each soul causes different things to happen, usually dependant on the monster it was collected from.  For example, collecting a bat soul will allow you to emit sonar attacks.  You can equip several different souls at a time, one of each type.  Some are always active, others you activate manually.  The souls are used rather cleverly to find the “real ending”.  You’ll have to use a specific set of souls in order to achieve the true ending.

The plot for this game is also quite a bit divergent from the previous games.  You see, in 2023, when the game is set, Dracula is dead.  Like dead dead.   You’re character is called to Dracula’s castle and as he absorbs souls, be becomes consumed by the desire to become the “new Dracula”.  Soma will have to over come this or face off against Julius Belmont in order to save himself.  Of course killing the
Belmont means becoming the new master of the castle.  Yeah, who knew such a flakey guy could be so sinister.

Plot nuances aside, the game play on this title is rock solid.  It’s not quite as good as Symphony but it comes in a pretty close second.  The castle is large and interesting, the enemies are closer to their more traditional selves after Harmony’s oddball designs.  Control is good, the soul system is much better than the DSS and magic books of the previous two GBA titles.

Best yet, there’s a decent sequel waiting for you when you finish this one, though Dawn of Sorrow will require a DS to play.  Chances are you’re only going to find this game in the double pack with Harmony but either way, alone or doubled up, it’s still worth the price of purchase.

Review – Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (NDS)

If you’d have suggested to me twenty years ago I’d be a Castlevania fan I’d have laughed in your face.  I have zero interest in the whole Gothic Horror genre, I dislike the soul crushing difficulty of the NES games, and frankly, the whole Dracula thing is kind of derivative.

Then I played Symphony of the Night on the recommendation of pretty much everyone in  Ok, I purchased it at the Greatest Hits price then it sat on me game shelf until halfway through college.  Eventually I needed something to play so I picked it up.

Now I’ve purchased the latest Castlevania game on a pre-order that I placed the day they announced it (and it’s 20th Anniversary bundle).  Frustratingly I still have not gotten my bonus pack.  I’m planning on bitching to Gamestop corporate, for what it’s worth to try and get one.  You see, the store claims their shipment was damaged by UPS.  I came in the day the game was released to ensure I’d get my game and bonus, and here I am, weeks later, without.  I already hate Gamestop in general, this doesn’t help.

But this is not a complaint on Gamestop nor a praise on Symphony of the Night.  This is a review of Castlevania Portrait of Ruin for the Nintendo DS.  I’ve played the three Game Boy Advance Castlevanias but I’ve not had the chance to play Dawn of Sorrow.

Because I like giving the punch line before the joke, I’ll tell you Portrait of Ruin is an excellent game.  You can go away now if you’d like unless you’d like to hear me rattle on about why.

The gimmick of Portrait of Ruin is coupling.  You get two different playable character in the main monde and two of the three bonus modes.  This isn’t your straight “pick a player” set up though, you get control of both characters at once.  If you prefer (I do) you can sent the other person away and tag team in and out at will.  If you’re especially skilled the second player can be controlled via the touch screen.  Good luck at that one however unless you’re some sort of three armed mutant.  Let’s see, Portrait of Ruin, N64 Controller, I see a trend.  Maybe there is something we don’t know about the Japanese.

Each pairing features a physical based character and a magic based character.  For the main game you play as Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin.  You may recognize the name John Morris from the Genesis Castlevania: Bloodlines.  This game is essentially a direct sequel to Bloodlines, but you don’t play as John, you play as Jonathan, John’s son.  There are however ties to Castlevania X (to which Symphony of the Night was a direct sequel to) through the Vampire Killer Whip.  You must fight to restore the Whip’s power late in the game and face the “Last Belmont to Wield the Whip”.  Confused yet?  I’m pretty sure there were a few references to the plot of the Dawn/Aria of Sorrow combo in there was well but I’m not certain.  Basically this whole timeline is actually a bit more coherent than it would appear to be.

Charlotte on the other hand has no real relation to anyone.  Truthfully the two characters just act as an arbitrary separation of magic and physical attacks.  It does help add a few interesting story bits.  My style of gameplay had me using Jonathan more than Charlotte however.  Mostly I used her for the combo “Dual Crush” super attacks.  I’ve heard other people report opposite styles of gameplay however.  The transition is well done between the two characters and the computer AI controlling Player two when on screen is decent enough.

My chief complain with this game are the bosses.  The game in general is fairly easy until you get to a boss.  Almost all of them have attacks that will wipe you right out before you even realize what’s happening.  This can be quite frustrating.  However the End Boss actually doesn’t have this problem.  In most Castlevania games I’ve actually had trouble defeating Dracula and his final form but this game was definitely the easiest Dracula ever.  You even face off against Dracula plus a partner enemy.  The irony is that the enemy Dracula teams up with is probably the hardest boss in the game when you fight him alone.

Oh right, in case you didn’t know, Dracula is at the end of pretty much every Castlevania game.  Often in current games he’s hidden behind one or two “bad endings”.  This game is no exception though considering that you’re map isn’t complete in the bad ending and there is a huge “mystery barrier” it should be pretty obvious to anyone that you’re not done if you think killing the Sisters is the end of the game.

Speaking of completing the game, after doing so you’ll unlock bonus modes.  You can play through with a “New Game +” feature using Jonathan and Charlotte, or play through as the Sisters.  Or, if you’ve unlocked the Vampire Killer, you can play as Richter and Maria.  Richter mode is especially fun.  His ability to crush enemies easily makes it extremely quick.  I spent roughly 15 hours my first play through getting 100% on everything (I’m still not quite done yet).  I’ve played MAYBE an hour on Richter mode and I’m already nearly halfway through.

There is also the touch screen heavy “Sisters Mode”.  This mode actually serves as a bit of a prologue sequence where you play through as the game’s two Sister characters.  However gameplay is drastically different and almost entirely touch screen based.  The only buttons you use are the control pad and the L button to switch characters.  The Magic based sister constantly attacks anywhere you touch on the screen, the physical based sister allows you to slash enemies with your stylus.  It’s pretty neat and is a good use of the touch screen.  It’s also different enough to give incentive to play through it and the prologue story is a nice bonus.

These bonus modes are great and really go to increase the replay value.  What also helps a bit with replay value are the Boss Rush and Multiplayer Modes.  Boss Rush isn’t anything new to the series though I find this game’s version of it more entertaining than previous games for some unknown reason.  The Multiplayer is essentially a two player version of the Boss Rush.  This can be good and bad depending on who you get matched with.  Nintendo’s WiFi Multiplayer has not been it’s strong suit so far.

The Multiplayer also includes a shop mode.  Essentially you can buy things from other players.  It’s neat because it can allow you to get quest drops early and more easily, but annoying in overall interface.  The WiFi takes forever to connect and you can only make one connection before having to reconnect.  The reconnect is especially annoying when selling.  It would be great if you could leave your shop open say, while charging the DS.  Wake up and become instantly rich.  I have noticed however that more than one person can connect to a shop at a time.  At least once I met another player, though the game allows zero interaction.

My other complaint is the bonus “Nest of Evil” zone.  It’s essentially the “Area of really hard enemies that have to be beat before leaving the area”.  Sort of like Circle of the Moon’s Coliseum only easier.  You can use teleport stones after every level and the enemies actually get really easy near the end.  Especially the final sets of bosses.  The pay off is a really cool throwback to previous games in the series Dual Crush, but it’s not overly strong.  In fact the strongest Dual Crush is 1000 Blades which is received fairly early in the game.

The biggest plus for this game is variety of areas.  The game of course features Dracula’s castle with it’s relatively standard design and areas.  However there are numerous portraits that you must enter which transport the player to several unique zones.  The neatest of which are the two “wheel” areas in which the environments slowly turn on their side then upside down as you traverse the area.  They don’t actually move, and you always go “down” but the map itself is circular and everything on top is upside down.  If that makes sense.  I will have to nitpick the areas though, late in the game you unlock a second set of paintings each of which is a flat out revamp of the previous 4 paintings.

Portrait of Ruin is an absolute blast to play.  It’s really sad that side scrolling games are slowly going by the wayside.  This and previous side scrolling Adventure style Castlevania games show that the genre has a lot to offer.  The only real competitor in style, Metroid moved to the third dimension a while back which was a huge loss for the genre.  Anyway, I highly recommend this game for anyone with a DS.